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Improved cancer-related fatigue in a randomised clinical trial: methylphenidate no better than placebo


Introduction Methylphenidate is a psychostimulant drug used to treat fatigue in patients with advanced cancer, for which there is no gold standard of treatment.

Objective To explore the efficacy of methylphenidate in the relief of fatigue in patients with advanced cancer.

Materials and methods A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled multicentre clinical trial, stratified according to the intensity of fatigue. The treatment was considered effective if the improvement in mean fatigue intensity between baseline values and day 6 was significantly higher in the methylphenidate group than in the placebo group. The responses were measured using the Edmonton Symptoms Assessment System (ESAS) and the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Fatigue (FACT-F) scales.

Results 35 patients received placebo and 42 patients received methylphenidate. The populations of both groups were homogeneous. Patients receiving methylphenidate did not exhibit statistically significant improvement of fatigue in comparison to patients receiving placebo (p=0.52). The mean improvement of fatigue (ESAS) on day 6 was −1.9 (±2.5) in the placebo group, and −2.3 (±2.6) in the methylphenidate group (p=0.52). The results obtained with the FACT-F were congruent with those obtained by the ESAS. The responses in patients with severe fatigue were −2.4 (±2.9) in the placebo group and −3.4 (±2.5) in the methylphenidate group; the difference was not statistically significant (p=0.3).

Conclusion Methylphenidate was not more efficient than placebo to treat cancer-related fatigue. Fatigue improved significantly after 3 days of treatment and was stabilised on day 6, both with placebo and methylphenidate. The side effects of methylphenidate were mild and infrequent.

Trial registration number EudraCT Registry (2008-002171-27).

  • fatigue
  • cancer
  • supportive care
  • pharmacology

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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